Friday, July 29, 2016

This Time, Take Vienna

The Israelis believe that the next war with Hezbollah will be tougher than the last one in 2006. I think it is a window of opportunity to fight better and really tear up Hezbollah's armed forces.

So will the next war with Hezbollah really be tougher for Israel?

Hezbollah is now a regional military power, a cross-border strike force, with thousands of soldiers hardened by four years of fighting on Syrian battlefields on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. There are 7,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria, Israeli commanders say.

Hezbollah troops have been schooled by Iranian commanders, funded by Tehran and have learned to use, in combat, some of the most sophisticated armaments available, such as fourth-generation Kornet guided anti-tank missiles. They pilot unmanned aircraft and fight alongside artillery and tanks. They have taken rebel-held villages with Russian air support.

More than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have died, the Israelis say; they do not describe Hezbollah as “demoralized” but “tested.”

“In 2006, Hezbollah fought a guerrilla war. Today, Hezbollah is like a conventional army,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general who teaches at the American University of Beirut.

The Hezbollah rocket threat is the catalyst for a terrible war:

Ten years ago, Hezbollah fired 4,000 short-range, relatively crude rockets at Israel, about 100 a day, killing some 50 Israeli civilians. Today, the group has 100,000 rockets, including thousands of more accurate mid-range weapons with larger warheads capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, according to Israeli army commanders and military analysts in Israel and Lebanon.

Israel can't stop these rockets with their Iron Dome or other defenses (see here). Eventually the Israelis will run out of ammo and the Hezbollah rockets will keep flying. Defenses within Israel can only buy time for Israel to destroy the Hezbollah rocket arsenal. So yeah, anyone around them will be in a world of hurt:

When Israeli army commanders describe how the next war against Hezbollah could unfold, they often search for words not used in military manuals. The future conflict, they warn, will be “ferocious” and “terrible.”

For both sides, the Israelis fear.

Yet far worse for Hezbollah and the civilians of Lebanon, they promise.

While I keep reading that Israel has greatly improved their ability to hit targets from the air, this continues the basic error of 2006. I think the aerial focus was the problem in the 2006 war and turning the aerial campaign to 11 is the wrong lesson.

I think the Israelis need to send in the ground troops to occupy the rocket launching areas and drive north into Hezbollah's rear areas to really tear up Hezbollah.

And the talk of Hezbollah being tested by their four years of war in Syria is only partially true.

One, the death toll is pretty high for the force involved. A thousand dead in four years with a force of 7,000 committed. Say a rate of 3.6% of the force per year.

We suffered about 4,500 dead out of a force of about 140,000 over 5 years of major fighting. That's a rate of about 0.6% per year.

Despite the talk of our Army breaking during the war, our ground forces really were tested. I wouldn't bet that Hezbollah is tested as much as it is exhausted, even if it isn't demoralized.

As for the experience Hezbollah has gained in Syria?

Yes, those who survive are combat experienced. But the experience is in fighting insurgents and light infantry with plenty of firepower helping them. That doesn't automatically translate into a better ability to fight Israelis who will be the side with the firepower support from tanks, artillery, and air power.

Our "tested" Army is refocusing on conventional combat and our combat veterans are learning that experience fighting insurgent light infantry is way different than fighting conventional enemies:

The military calls this pre-2001 style training “near-peer” (against someone who has similar weapons and abilities) warfare. That means many Army veterans of ten years’ service, including several years in a combat zone, are now, for the first time learning how to deal with a near-peer foe. It’s an unsettling experience, especially in the U.S. Army, which uses some very realistic training methods. The realistic training these troops had used for years for learning how to cope with ambushes, raids and roadside bombs now involves dealing with enemy tanks, guided missiles and aircraft. It’s scary stuff for a veteran of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Once retrained to fight conventional foes, that combat experience in different kinds of fighting will pay off because our troops will not face the shock of combat that non-combat veterans experience.

Hezbollah will face the same problem in a war with Israel.

But if Israel can move fast while Hezbollah has to redeploy from Syria to southern Lebanon, Israel could kill a lot of those forces before they can transition from a force experienced in fighting a relatively poorly equipped enemy to being the relatively poorly equipped force.

Syria will be in no position to intervene to save Hezbollah, which would have been a brake on Israeli action in the past.

Oh, and that regional power comment is just silly. Hezbollah has sent a few thousand light infantry (recently reinforced with tanks, perhaps to reduce casualties) to a neighboring country to function as the shock troops of Assad, where the Iranians funded and trained them and where the Syrian army and now the Russians likely take care of logistics. Regional cannon fodder is more like it.

And yes, Lebanese civilians will suffer terribly because their country will be the battlefield in a war they would rather take a pass on. But that is Hezbollah's choice.

Israel should choose to make the war terrible and ferocious for Hezbollah and drive all the way to Baalbek to inflict a serious defeat on the terror organization that serves as Iran's foreign legion.